Home > Uncategorized > Waiting for a vaccine and the collaborative research alternative

Waiting for a vaccine and the collaborative research alternative

from Dean Baker

It seems increasingly likely that China will begin providing vaccines to its own people, as well as those in some other countries, by December, and possibly as early as next month. The prospect of a vaccine being available that soon has to look good to people here, now that the Trump administration’s pandemic control efforts have completely failed. The whole country would like to get back to normal, but that doesn’t seem like a serious possibility until we have an effective vaccine widely available.

It seems China’s leading vaccine makers got ahead of the ones in the U.S. and Europe by using the old-fashioned dead virus approach to developing a vaccine. This is well-known technology that they were apparently able to quickly adapt for a vaccine providing protection against the coronavirus. This allowed for them to get into the field sooner with large-scale Phase 3 tests. It also has apparently created fewer issues with side effects than the mRNA vaccines being pursued here. In addition, the dead virus vaccines do not require super-cold storage, like the mRNA vaccines. That will be a huge problem in the developing world, but also a serious logistic problem even in the United States.

China has followed a path of questionable safety in carrying out large-scale vaccination on emergency use authorization. The people being vaccinated were not just front-line workers in hospitals at high risk of catching the virus, but also students traveling abroad and others who were not in obviously high risk categories. Several hundred thousand people have now received one of China’s vaccines on this basis.

While we may not approve of China’s lax standards, we can still learn from its experience. At this point, we can be fairly well assured that its leading vaccines do not have harmful short-term side effects.

If the United States had pursued a route of open collaborative research, we would now be in a position to start mass producing China’s leading vaccines and distributing them as soon as evidence of its effectiveness was sufficiently established to satisfy the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) standards for approval. Collaborative research would have meant that all the results from clinical trials were freely shared as soon as they were available. This means that we would have the results at the same time as China’s health safety agency, and of course companies here would be free to run their own trials with China’s vaccines.

This sort of collaboration would have had to have been negotiated. Donald Trump, with his “America First” rants had no interest in international collaboration and therefore never tried to negotiate any plan for open research with equitable cost-sharing across countries. Unfortunately, leading Democrats, with their determination to use patent monopolies to increase inequality, never sought to raise the issue either.

As a result of this failed leadership, we may be waiting months longer than necessary for our lives to get back to normal. This will mean tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and hundreds of thousands of avoidable infections, but hey, at least we preserved the idea that we need government-granted patent monopolies to finance research. And, we can create many high-paying jobs for economists and policy types trying to figure out ways to combat inequality.

  1. October 17, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    “And, we can create many high-paying jobs for economists and policy types [pretending] to figure out ways to combat inequality” without actually addressing the root causes of that inequality.

    There. Fixed the last sentence.

    Good piece! Just thought I would alter the sarcasm a tinge.

  2. October 17, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you, Dean Baker. The last lines are a well written description the hypocrisy and resulting rank failure of Democratic party leadership in service to oligarchy based on wage slavery and austerity.

  3. Ikonoclast
    October 18, 2020 at 1:19 am

    While I agree with the post overall, I want to discuss one statement: “The whole country would like to get back to normal.” This is probably descriptively accurate but prescriptively impossible. Yes, people would like to get back to what they came to perceive as normal. However, the American, Western and advanced Asian “normal” is ecologically and climatalogically impossible if we want to survive. If we want to survive we must NOT get back to normal. Normal will destroy the benign Holocene biosphere and human civilization with it. We have to take the COVID-19 pandemic as a sign and facilitator for NOT getting back to normal. Normal has been the ecologically destructive processes of over-production and over-consumption in capitalism.

    Yes, we do need to continue the expenditure of more real resources (money is meaningless) on vaccines, on public health, on safe food and on fair distribution of necessities to all for a healthy and fulfilled human life WITHIN ecologically sustainable parameters. No, we do not need to restart much of the wasteful paraphernalia of consumer capitalism and the debased values and behaviors which go with it. To do that will be to consign ourselves to decline and collapse, ecologically and civilizationally.

    Industries which have been significantly closed down are proven by that very fact to be non-essential. International tourist travel is non-essential. As much as 80% or 90% of the previous airline industry is non-essential. Cruise ships are non-essential. Personal automobiles are non-essential (whereas mass transit designed to be pandemic safe is essential and will be a great challenge to design and implement). Pets are non-essential. Elite sports and stadiums are non-essential. Excesses of fatty, starchy and sugary foods are non-essential. Excesses of animal protein are non-essential. All of these non-essential consumption items are highly damaging ecologically and to the climate and yet people continue to regard them as normal and desirable. Ecologically speaking they are abnormal and highly undesirable.

    Unless we take this almost “Dark Green” approach to economics and what should be re-started and permitted in our economy, and what should not be re-started and permitted, we will be committing ecological and human omnicide. The denouement is close. We are in a grave planetary emergency right now in every sense. In conditions of total war, people (those who survive at least) give up childish and frivolous things and knuckle down to the serious work which promises survival. We are now, or should be, joined in a common, total effort to save the biosphere and human civilization. To continue with greedy, over-indulgent capitalist over-consumption will be the height of folly and will be swiftly and comprehensively punished by the natural and biological forces of nature. Even the rapid rise and emergences of novel zoonotic diseases, of which COVID-19 is just the latest, is a sign of the pathological maladjustment of our political economy to the natural world.

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